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Jane Austen Lived a Quiet, Single Life-Or Did She?
Tradition holds that Jane Austen lived a proper, contemplative, unmarried life. But what if she wed a man as passionate and intelligent as she-and the marriage remained secret for 200 years?
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen resolves the biggest mystery of Austen's life-the "lost years" of her twenties-of which historians know virtually nothing.
Why the enduring rumors of a lost love or tragic affair?
Why, afterward, did the vivacious Austen prematurely put on "the cap of middle age" and close off any thoughts of finding love?
Why, after her death, did her beloved sister destroy her letters and journals?
The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen trilogy answers these questions through a riveting love affair based on the history of the times and the details of Austen's own life.
"A skillful portrayal of an early nineteenth-century literary icon takes this historical romance on an imaginative journey of the soul." -Foreword CLARION Reviews, 4 stars
"Hemingway captures the energy of the times, while also writing with the irony and sly humor of Austen herself." -Blueink Starred Review
"An enjoyable first novel in an imaginative, well-researched series." -Kirkus Reviews
"Hemingway, with the lightest touch, builds up a thoroughly convincing alternative history." -Jane Austen's Regency World
Please note that this review is for the second book in this trilogy; therefore, this review will contain spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read the first book in this trilogy.
“I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their Lives for Love.” Jane Austen
Last week I reviewed “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume 1” and today I am thrilled to review and offer a giveaway for Collins Hemingway’s second book in his trilogy, “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume 2.” I have to state first that I am just thrilled that I was asked to join this blog tour because I truly loved the way Mr. Hemingway reimagined Jane’s life as a married woman and this has turned out to be one of the most surprisingly delightful JAFF stories that I have had the pleasure of reading this year.
“The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume 2,” focuses on the first two years of Jane’s and Ashton’s marriage, as they establish themselves in their new roles. Naturally, Jane faces more changes to the daily routines of her everyday life; yet, Ashton too, finds himself having to adjust to living his life as a man married to a woman with both a heart and a mind that he loves and respects.
This book is also told in three parts, with each part detailing through letters and narratives the most pressing issues and commitments in the Dennis’ lives. The transition between the epistolary and narratives felt seamless and offers readers the opportunity to engage with several character’s perspectives, without losing Jane’s strong voice throughout the story.
Throughout the early chapters, we learn about the great leading thinkers who are invited to Hants House for a convocation at Ashton Dennis’ request, in order to help him find new investments, while also trying to find ways to improve the lives of his fellow man. As the new mistress of such a grand estate, the convocation is Jane’s first opportunity to demonstrate her ability to impress her husband’s associates and show her refractory mother-in-law that she can handle her new responsibilities. Jane also must work to gain the good opinion of her staff, whose loyalties still mainly reside with their former mistress. It was great watching her try to establish herself in this role and have the courage to question her mother-in-law’s past practices:
“The older Mrs. Dennis has been told that the difficulty of change will be more than offset by the improvement of morale. However, I will leave it to the discretion of each individual as to whether to continue in the old style with her.”
The correspondences shared between Jane and Cassandra regarding the events of the convocation contain exchanges both personal and perfunctory in nature. I loved reading these letters, as they allowed us to see how her relationship with Cassandra remained an essential part of Jane’s new life.
From Jane to Cassandra:
“It was a surprise to learn that contentiousness shapes progress as much as organizations and step-by-step deliberation. Like every other human endeavor, science must involve personalities, and sometimes those personalities clash.”
Ashton eventually selects an endeavor to invest in and looks to gain the financial assistance of other prominent investors. This opportunity strengthens their involvement with the Lovelaces, who also consider investing in the same endeavor. Over time, the two couple develop a close bond and often spend time in one another’s company.
I loved watching how Jane and Ashton’s relationship evolved as a married couple, who not only married for love, but who also share a mutual respect for one another’s ideas and opinions. They develop an intimacy with each other that is based not only on the physical aspects of their love, but also from joining together as each other’s closest friend and confidant. Yet, it’s still a significant challenge for them to navigate some of the issues that arise in their marriage; Ashton’s extended business trips, which are mainly a result of his strong desire to expand his family’s legacy and Jane’s struggles between dividing her time and attentions between her duties as a wife and her longing to continue with her own writing, offer both of them opportunities to learn how to define the expectations for their own marriage. I loved how Ashton really tried to understand his wife’s needs without becoming a man who sacrificed his own opinions and needs. They are not painted as perfect people, but as complex, three-dimensional characters trying to be true to themselves throughout their new relationship.
Besides its focus on the scientific and economic issues of their time, the book also explores some of the controversial social issues of its era, such as the slave trade and Parliament’s inability to pass any laws to affect changes in this arena. Jane’s and Ashton’s growing awareness about the brutal realities regarding slavery, while also seeking to understand the financial implications for themselves, as well as millions of people around the world, force them to examine their own actions, in conjunction with the actions of those close to them. Once it becomes apparent that they have been deceived in their perspectives regarding some close friends, they must make some rather difficult decisions.
As two of Jane’s brothers continue to serve as officers, their personal and professional lives continue to be affected by war. Various storylines include Jane’s extended family, and it’s fascinating to see how Mr. Hemingway has woven her extended family into this fictional story, while also incorporating some of the real life events from their lives. I enjoyed reading about Jane’s and Ashton’s relationships with her family and how they supported each other in their lives.
Mr. Hemingway does a splendid job bringing not only Jane and Ashton’s relationship to life, but also the subtle nuances of this era. The details in his story served to heighten my enjoyment of this book, while also developing the background, the actions and the settings of this story. His writing style is tight, while his dialogues establish an authentic tone between his characters. For example, in one of my favorite scenes shown below, Jane confides her concerns about their relationship to Ashton:
“I spend too much time with Mr. Dennis the natural philosopher. Mr. Dennis the business man. Mr. Dennis the reformer. Wonderful men, all. Forceful, charming. But I need more time with the humblest of men, Ashton. My husband. To understand who he is, and how all these things happening to us… are changing him.”
“Lapsed. I am a lapsed natural philosopher. Another endeavor with too much thought and not enough activity.”
His small joke confirmed the shift in his perspective. He rustled the newspaper to drown out anything further she might say, but muttered in a submissive manner from behind the pages: “Then you shall have it. So much quiet, boring, ordinary time with humble Ashton Dennis that you shall scream to be released.”
This story doesn’t end with any cliffhangers, which is something I believe will attract readers to giving this series a try before the last book is published. I hope my review and the other posts in this tour help other people make the decision to give this series a try because I’d love to see more JAFF readers enjoying Jane’s own reimagined love story!
Critics Praise The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen
Hemingway … [places] a very human Jane into a vibrant, turbulent England that is seeking new ideas but also fighting the Napoleonic Wars. … He captures the energy of the times, while also writing with the irony and sly humor of Austen herself. … Truly a worthy addition to the Jane Austen legacy.
—Blueink Starred Review
A skillful portrayal of an early nineteenth-century literary icon takes this historical romance on an imaginative journey of the soul. … These fascinating people step off the pages in lifelike form.
—Foreword CLARION Reviews, 4 stars
Hemingway has a talent for witty banter and wry observations that would make Elizabeth Bennet proud. An enjoyable first novel in an imaginative, well-researched series.
Hemingway, with the lightest touch, builds up a thoroughly convincing alternative history for Jane. … [A] thoughtful re-imagining of Austen’s love life.
—Jane Austen’s Regency World
How could someone change history so significantly as to marry off our wonderful, but spinster author? But I was in fact pleasantly surprised and amused by this well written and interesting book.
—Jane Austen Society of Australia Chronicle
Readers Agree about ‘Wickedly Clever’ Story
—“A truly inspired reimagining of the life of English novelist Jane Austen. It’s an audacious premise: What if the revered literary figure had married? [You] will admire Hemingway’s wickedly clever approach to the tale.”
—“This book is beautifully written. … One of the best love stories I have read in a long time.”
—“A magical tale that had always been my big question. What was her life like? The ending was perfection.”
—“One of those books you have to read in one sitting to discover how it ends.”
—“This is Jane Austen with a sense of history and a willingness to misbehave … with all her virtues of perception and the well-turned phrase intact. … Hats off to Hemingway for this wicked reimagining.”
—“Exacting research into the Austen era, and [a] creative and captivating portrayal of Miss Austen as a fully imagined woman.”
—“This beautifully constructed book transports the reader into the constrictive social roles and expectations of Miss Austen’s life while also displaying the grace and determined manners of the time. This is a delightful book, beautifully researched.”
—“This lovely novel about Jane Austen’s reimagined life is so well-researched and respectfully written … that it’s easy to imagine how she could have found love and a partner as intelligent, talented and passionate as she was.”
—“How delightful to read a novel so creatively written which explores what many JA fans have wondered—did she ever fall in love? This author … makes her come alive—her quick wit, intelligence, eagerness to learn new things, and thoughtful reflections are well crafted and kept my attention.”
—“A gorgeous romantic tease that ultimately made me laugh with delight. … Highly imagined, playful, and it is writ close to Austen’s own voice.”
—“Well written and probable tale, with a lovely ending. … It is not too far from Austen’s life story—with a twist that intrigues. … The ending is quite lovely—not contrived, impossible or out of character.”
—“An intriguing and engaging, romantic, historical fantasy about the unknown part of Jane Austen’s life. Leaves you anxious for the sequel.”
—“I loved this book! … I enjoyed being transported in time and into the mind and heart of the Jane Austen that might have been. I couldn’t put it down.”
—“A delight … with amazing detail and accuracy. … The characters jump off the page. … Even those unfamiliar with the ‘real’ Jane Austen will find this novel a great addition to their library.”
—“An engaging page-turner of a book [that] vividly conveys the challenges experienced by a woman of Jane’s era. … An excellent selection for a book club.”
—“This book was wonderful! The language, timing, and historical accuracy were all perfect. I found myself reading the last of this book rather than preparing for a party I was to give that evening.”
In her mid-twenties, well past her bloom, Miss Jane Austen is enticed by Mister Ashton Dennis, a man several years her junior, to go for a ride on a hot-air balloon piloted by a French aeronaut doing a demonstration flight at Bath, England.
An Excerpt from “The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen:Volume 1 / Chapter 4
Beyond a modest rocking motion such as one would experience in a small boat setting out from shore, the first few moments aloft held no particular thrill. After the workmen released the ropes and hastened to pull them clear to avoid snagging the balloon, the audience began to murmur with the first flutterings of ascent. There was little sensation of motion. Faces shifted perspective and then began to slide away, as if the crowd were sinking instead of the balloon rising. The interior of the basket was designed so that they could sit as if on an afternoon carriage ride, but Ashton and Jane stood, hands firmly holding on to the chest-high side. Jane risked a wave to Cassandra and Alethea, who observed their departure with identical frozen expressions of disbelief.
Jane was uncertain where to look. Did one continue to watch the varying reactions of the crowd—some joyful, some incredulous, some afraid, a few angry at what had to be a blasphemous violation of God’s pure space? Should she look up at the balloon itself, as large as the globe but as insubstantial as Jane’s muslin dress? Should she scan the horizon for vistas that were starting to reveal themselves over the buildings? With so much to see from new and ever-changing angles, she did all of these things rapidly and found herself feeling dizzy. She wondered if her face betrayed the same expression of incredulity as Ashton’s. He seemed to share her perplexity, her sensation of being overwhelmed, and her excitement. And they had barely cleared the trees!
Streamers set on poles showed that the wind was running to the southeast, but some kind of eddy sent the balloon drifting the opposite way over the Sydney Hotel. She had never imagined how a building would look from above. The central skylight and its smaller companions looked like deep blue pools, giving her a momentary urge to dive in. The colonnaded portico stood out in bright relief in the sun; the stocky lower level and the tall, thin, elegant upper story formed a congenial pairing. Red-coated valets ran out from under the entryway to see the balloon, which turned north as if to promenade up Sydney Place. A pair of horses approaching from Sutton Street startled at the sight.
The balloon paused as if undecided on its path. They were only a few feet above the roofline. The roofs of this section of row houses had notches and grooves, almost like a key; the pattern was not something one could see from the street. Suddenly Jane saw that they were directly across from her own home. Her parents stood in the window. Along with many other people leaning from windows, the Austens waved at the aerostat. Not a few people waved British flags, though the balloon and aeronaut were French. That the flight was occurring in England was enough to stimulate a show of nationalism.
“Mother, father!” Jane called, returning their gesture with great vigor and leaning so far forward that Ashton felt obliged to clutch at her.
“Mr. and Mrs. Austen,” Ashton said in a stiff and strangely formal manner, tipping his hat with his free hand in the requisite manner.
Jane’s parents at first responded with great delight at being singled out by the balloonists. But, as recognition dawned as to who was gesticulating and hallooing, their pleasure changed to shock and grief: They grasped instantly that the novelty of their daughter’s situation, as exhilarating as it was unforeseen, must be nothing but an astonishing harbinger of death. Mrs. Austen keeled over; Mr. Austen’s sudden movement to catch her—deft for a man in his seventies—left his thick white hair in disarray, compounding his expression of fright.
“It will be all right, Miss Austen,” Ashton said.
“It had better be, Mr. Dennis.”
During these first few minutes of their expedition, Monsieur Garnerin moved from one side of the basket to another, checking clearances, ensuring that the balloon did not graze the hotel or trees, talking quietly to himself with evident satisfaction at their progress.
“Êtes-vous prêt?” he asked. Not waiting for a reply, he dropped a barrage of ballast. The balloon rose rapidly; the building hid her parents from view. As if seeking its bearings, the balloon swiveled almost completely in a circle. Once free from sheltering buildings and trees, it fell captive to the prevailing wind and surged southeast, sending the carriage rocking in the opposite direction. The balloon and its basket see-sawed over Sydney Gardens like two dancers disputing the lead. Jane caught only a hint of the canal, the bridges, the waterfalls, and the serpentine promenades where she and Cassandra had enjoyed cool walks over the summer. She was certain she caught a glimpse of more than one couple exchanging unsanctioned kisses on isolated benches in the labyrinth. Then they were past the gardens. The balloon continued to rise. Her ears popped. Jane had a moment to take in the buff-colored houses that were almost painfully bright in the sun. The construction on this side of town was all noise and confusion, but from this vantage point she could ascertain the underlying geometric pattern. They were the first to see how Bath would look in coming years. The sense of orderly development gave her pleasure. It was a shame that it would take many, many years for the greenery to return fertility to an area sterilized by progress.
Once the balloon stabilized, Monsieur Garnerin turned to his passengers with a cold, professional smile.
“Am I really your first female passenger?” Jane asked in French, suddenly concerned that her frail form, a wisp compared to Ashton’s and Garnerin’s, might not withstand the rigors of flight.
“Plusieurs femmes vous ont précédé en vol, y compris ma femme. Vous n’avez rien à craindre. Les changements de pression ne vous nuira pas.”
“What was that about?” Ashton asked.
“He has taken women aloft before. Including his wife. He assures me that I have nothing to worry about. The altitude will not cause me to explode.”
“Mais vous êtes la première anglaise,” Garnerin said, with a bit more politesse.
“I am the first English woman to go up with him,” Jane told Ashton, though he seemed to have comprehended the words.
They were high enough now that the woods and farmlands formed a patchwork quilt of light and dark greens, with here and there a stripe of yellow; the texture of the ground from altitude resembled wool and moss. The balloon slowed, reached its apex, and began to drift down. Using a wooden pitchfork, Monsieur Garnerin fed the brazier with more fuel, encouraging a whiff of farm. The basket swayed. Jane’s stomach felt momentarily queasy. In a few moments, Monsieur Garnerin had steadied their height above ground. He held up an instrument that measured the altitude. “Interesting,” Ashton said. “A variation on the standard barometer.”
“We are approximately four thousand three hundred feet,” Monsieur Garnerin said in thick but understandable English.
“Is it a good sign that he suddenly speaks our language?” Ashton asked.
“I rather suspect that it portends something disagreeable,” Jane replied.
“Monsieur Dennis,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “You have purchased the balloon. You have taken away my livelihood.” His words were clear despite the French mastication. “With typical English arrogance, you have chosen to embarrass me among my family and your people.”
“See here, man, I was rather trying to help you out.”
“You were trying to impress this young woman.” Monsieur Garnerin bowed to Jane. Reflexively, she returned the courtesy. “You have succeeded. You have what you want, which is everything I have.” As he spoke, he unstrapped an odd device from the side of the carriage. It resembled a large umbrella with wooden sticks that went down to a small woven bucket. “But you did not purchase me.”
“Monsieur Garnerin,” Jane said, “I am sure that Mr. Dennis meant nothing unkind.”
“Of course not,” Ashton said. “I merely sought to get you back to France before war breaks out again. It is only a matter of time. You could spend years in an English prison. I’m providing you a way home.”
“If that were only your intention,” Monsieur Garnerin said. “I wish you the very best with your acquisition. Adieu, mes amis. Je vais à la gloire!” With that, he hopped onto the side of the carriage, stepped into the bucket, and pushed off. The balloon heaved sideways, exactly as a small boat when someone rolls off into the sea; simultaneously, it shot up with the release of the man’s weight. Below them, they saw the white umbrella structure blossom. Monsieur Garnerin disappeared from view beneath it.
After rising rapidly another thousand feet or more, the balloon leveled off. They watched the parachute sway below them, drifting like a dandelion puffball across the green fields.
“This is an unexpected turn of events, but I see no reason to feel distressed,” Ashton said. “The weather is perfect. The company is delightful. Monsieur Garnerin will find that an Englishman does not come apart because of a sudden change in circumstance.” Ashton’s jaw thrust out in determination, but worry lines on his forehead belied his confidence. “We will drift along nicely and settle into some farmer’s hayfield. We might exasperate a cow or two, but I doubt that any other damage will be done. A fitting conclusion to a fine adventure.”
Jane, however, felt goose bumps rise on her arms. It was not fear, exactly, though she was frightened, but the sensation of increasing cold. They must now be close to a mile high, and the breeze was stronger, pushing them more toward the south as they carried on. She could feel the wind cut through her thin summer dress. The smile she mustered must surely have seemed to Ashton more like a grimace. Yet she could also feel the sun on her face. She relaxed enough to feel the enchantment of the view and understood the lure of the sky: woods and fields undulating beneath them, the blue reflective sheen of streams, a hawk hunting below them.
“The wind wants to whisper its secrets,” she said.
“What is it saying?” Ashton asked.
“It wants to tell us of faraway countries,” Jane said. “Of places we might go, if we had the nerve. France, Spain, Portugal.”
“Then it is not so bad?” He had not failed to notice her white-knuckled clutch of the rail.
“I have spent less pleasant afternoons,” she conceded.
“I should rather think most of them.”
“I am not certain sailing above the woods is superior to walking through them.”
“I believe we are starting down,” Ashton said, speaking as one might of an approaching appointment.
Indeed, a certain light sensation in her belly was intensifying. For the next minute or so she could tell that the ground was gradually drawing near. Houses and farm buildings grew in size and developed sharper silhouettes. Trees began to clarify their forms.
“It is open land,” Ashton said. “We should have no trouble. Perhaps a bump upon landing.”
Jane nodded but sensed that something was not quite right. Of a sudden, the ground seemed to be welcoming them with rather too much eagerness.
“We are falling too quickly!” she said. “We went too high. The balloon has cooled!”
Ashton stood motionless. She could see that he agreed with her surmise, but the situation was nothing he could address with either his raw physicality or his pocketbook. She took the large wooden fork and tossed a flake of fuel into the brazier. “Help, Mr. Dennis! I cannot do this alone!”
There being only one pitchfork, Ashton grabbed a flake in each hand and stuffed one and then the other into the brazier. They worked furiously. Ashton managed two or three flakes for every one of Jane’s, but for the next thirty or forty seconds their rate of descent increased terrifyingly. Loose straw caught on their clothes as it streamed away into the atmosphere. Rank smoke belched out on them as the new fuel caught fire.
“Keep at it,” he shouted. “I think we’re catching up!”
The horizon was no longer distant but had closed upon them, a sign that they were nearing the ground. At last the sensation of falling eased; the plunge lessened until the balloon came to a halt a few hundred feet above the earth.
“We have done it,” she said with some satisfaction. The brazier burned furiously with the huge amount of fuel they had added. Smoke poured into the balloon cavity and swirled out the sides. They coughed through the odor and smoke. At the same instant they both recognized what was going to happen. The balloon began to rise. Soon it was rocketing skyward.
They worked out a system by which Jane watched for the first sign of the ebbing of their ascent and Ashton fed the brazier in fist-sized chunks so as not to over-feed the fire. Jane held up one of the sand bags with wry chagrin. They had both been so panicked that neither had thought to use the ballast to ameliorate their fall. Trial and error enabled them at last to steady the balloon and level by level drop it near the earth. The brisk wind, however, thwarted attempts to land. It would have been as dangerous as leaping from a horse at full gallop. As the afternoon wore on, they became adept at skimming trees but covered miles and miles before the wind waned sufficiently to risk setting down.
“Here, do you think?” Ashton said, indicating an expanse of recently hayed land.
Jane nodded her assent. They had to come down sometime, and this appeared their best opportunity. “It is this or a faraway land,” she said, for in their bobbing path through the sky they once glimpsed what might have been blue water in the distance—thrilling to consider until she realized it raised the prospect of their being swept far out over the sea.
Timing their fall to just clear a barn, they let the balloon settle on its own in the field. They hoped that the craft would slide a bit and come to a halt. Instead, it bounced with shocking vigor and threatened to sail high enough again to hurt them both in its next dive. Ashton grabbed two lines on the leeward side and hauled with all his might. He succeeded in turning the mouth of the balloon sufficiently askew to dissipate most of the air. The balloon buckled with a mighty exhalation. The basket landed upright with a thud, slid sideways, caught in a furrow, and toppled. Jane felt herself launch; felt herself captured—in the ropes, she thought at first—; felt herself secured like a child in a parent’s arms. Ashton took the brunt of the rolling fall onto the ground.
Dirt, dust, hay flew everywhere. They helped each other up. They were dusty, sooty, smelly. Over by the barn came the barking and baying of dogs setting out in their direction while alerting the farm to the advent of airborne strangers. Jane and Ashton hugged in the exhilaration of survival. His left cheek had been raked in the landing. As the farm family drew near—a man coming in a cart, another one on a horse, a handful of children racing their way with the dogs—Ashton and Jane stepped apart. Having returned to earth, they needed to remember its requirements and demeanors. But before everyone arrived, Ashton staked out a position in the sun. With his hands outstretched above him he cried: “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Jane contented herself with smoothing her dress and doing something with her hair—somewhere along the way she had lost her bonnet—but inside she was shouting as exultantly as he.
Whether his subject is literature, history, or science, Collins Hemingway has a passion for the art of creative investigation. Hemingway’s fiction is shaped by the language of the heart and an abiding regard for courage in the face of adversity.
For him, the most compelling fiction deeply explores the heart and soul of its characters, while also engaging them in the complex and often dangerous world in which they have a stake. He wants to explore all that goes into people’s lives, to creatively investigate everything that makes them what they are as complete but fallible human beings.
His approach is to dive as deeply into a character’s heart and soul as possible, to address the root causes of their behavior rather than to describe superficial attitudes and beliefs. This treatment, he believes, is at the heart of all good fiction, for it provides the only way to draw a complete, complex portrait of a human being that is rewarding to readers.
As a nonfiction book author, Hemingway has investigated topics as diverse as corporate culture and ethics; the Internet and mobile technology; the ins and outs of the retail trade; and the cognitive potential of the brain. Best known for the #1 best-selling book on business and technology, Business @ the Speed of Thought, which he coauthored with Bill Gates, he has earned a reputation for tackling challenging topics with clarity and insight, writing for the nontechnical but intelligent reader. His shorter nonfiction has won awards for topics ranging from general interest to business to computer technology to medicine.
You can also visit him at Austen Authors, where he’s a brand-new addition the group.
Mr. Hemingway has generously offered a giveaway of an ebook of, The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume 2, for my Just Jane 1813 readers. Please leave a comment on this blog and let us know your thoughts about this story, no later than midnight, ET, on September 25th. The winner will be announced on this blog on September 26, 2016.
This book is also available through KindleUnlimited.